I first wrote this in 1996. What’s changed since then?
History has repeatedly shown that treaties between democracies and totalitarian regimes are doomed to failure, but those based on territories for peace are national disasters. The desire of one country for an equitable peace, even at the price of sacrificing defensible borders or cherished portions of a historical homeland, has never satisfied the appetite for an aggressor, but only increased it.
Even third-party guarantees and provisions for abrogation don’t change the fact that these treaties are lopsided agreements (mostly shotgun dictates) where one party pays upfront in territory for a paper voucher promising peace in the future. The provisions for abrogation are, in essence, a dead letter, even if territory is delivered in timed stages. They are purposely pushed out of sight by ceremonies and fanfare at and after the treaties’ signing to create public support for the unpopular government actions, for which there is a great deal of apprehension. It’s also done to neutralize organized opposition from other political parties as well within its own ranks. Thus, clauses calling for abrogation cease being an option for one of the parties and turn into an invisible and unmentionable alternative because it would shatter the illusion of infallibility of the statesmen and the treaty.
During this type of treaty’s historically short lifespan, the public is bombarded by newspaper photos and newsreels showing smiling bureaucrats, endless articles of support by “informed sources,” interviews with purring professors, Nobel Prize ceremonies, and last but not least the “waving of umbrellas” by heads of state. In spite of all of this, in a painfully short time the public sees that the second party is not fulfilling its part of the bargain and the euphoric utterances are replaced by a cascade of official denials that the treaty has been broken and the public trust violated. Then comes the inevitable announcement by the statesmen and the media that they control or can manipulate that the treaty did not bring “peace in our time” and the population should brace itself to pay the terrible price for their leaders’ miscalculations. In other words, after burying the treaty, they can use their shovels to dig trenches, and then mass graves.
The official lifespan of such treaties based on “land for peace” are short and range from 6 months (the Munich Agreement) to 22 months (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). However, there are radical exceptions. The American government broke over 100 such treaties with many Native American tribes (every one they ever made), some before the ink was dry. The Camp David Agreement replaced a cold war with a “frigid peace” with the only warmth coming from hot denunciations of Israel in the Egyptian government-controlled press. Mubarak, while insisting that Israel live up to the line and letter of the agreement, took the land and also the clauses in the treaty that appealed to him and ignored the others. The Israelis then chose to ignore being ignored and in essence accepted the fact that the treaty turned into a dead letter, somehow feeling grateful that it didn’t end in genocide as with the Native Americans, in mass expulsion as with the Czechs and Jews after Munich, or in outright invasion (that caused the Red Army over 4 million men in the first few months) after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact went sour. The Israelis somehow still feel that even though they were present at the birth of the Camp David Agreement and not at its funeral that it is still alive. In other words, even though the agreement has been broken without bloodshed, this won’t happen in the future because the Americans are guarantors, having a handful of soldiers in the Sinai and even wanting to place several handfuls facing Syria in exchange for the same type of agreement. (The Syrians possess more and better tanks today than Hitler had when he invaded the USSR, which was 1000 times larger than Israel, including all of the territories in dispute.)
This sense of security is strange, considering that Czechoslovakia received Mr..Chamberlain’s solemn written guarantees as to her remaining borders and sovereignty at Munich without even asking for it. They couldn’t, because they weren’t even invited to attend. Six months later, when Hitler overran that par of Czechoslovakia that Chamberlain didn’t trade for peace, the English Prime Minister was asked in Parliament about the guarantees he had given the Czechs. He answered that they were no longer relevant because Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. In other words, the agreement, in essence, consisted of two large democracies, England and France, lying to their small democratic ally while Hitler lied to his enemies.
If the events of 1938 are too long ago, we can use a more recent example. Jonathan Pollard is in prison because he supplied Israel with information that America was treaty bound and didn’t. As for friendly troops in the areas and verbal promises, during the Gulf War (the war CNN won, and Saddam Hussein didn’t lose), the Americans had 60,000 troops in the area, bombarding their enemies, the Iraqis, with missiles, and bombarding their allies, the Kurds, with promises in their own language. Strangely enough, their belief in the American government somehow resulted in their suffering more casualties (near genocide) than the Iraqis, even after hostilities had formally ended.
Israel’s reliance on the American State Department is even more ludicrous. This agency was behind the policy of sending the vessel St. Louis (crammed with Jewish refugees) back to Germany in the 1930s, was against the recognition of a Jewish state in the 1940s, saved Nasser in the 1950s, embargoed arms shipments to Israel in the 1960s, rescued the Egyptian Army in the Sinai in the 1970s, saved the PLO in Lebanon in the 1980s, and until this day does recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Wounded Knee (where the US Army brutally took the lives of a friendly tribe after the US government just as brutally took their historic homeland in exchange for a paper treaty) of Munich would have been a more appropriate setting than Oslo for Rabin and Peres to have Israel’s future guaranteed by those who tried to destroy her in the past, and whose aims, interests, and covenants haven’t changed. What has changed is their way of achieving them. Repudiating their election campaign promises has proven a lot easier than denying their dire consequences. Their “bold new direction” has moved Israel from the purgatory of former Sec. James Baker’s curses to the hell of Sec. Warren Christopher’s blessings. It has not stopped the killings. It has only stopped Israel’s freedom of action and has made Kristallnacht a daily occurrence for Israel’s Jewish citizens. Thus, in return for territory and defensible borders, they have gotten the hand of the chairmen of the PLO and the fist of the engineer of Hamas. Tomorrow’s papers will corroborate a repeat of yesterday’s history. Territory for peace is a euphemism for national suicide.